Calamities as teaching aids

Shades of King Canute as Hurricane Irma visits Florida.

Shades of King Canute as Hurricane Irma visits Florida.

EDITORIAL: As we watch the nether states of the US convulse from Hurricane Irma, let's not kid ourselves we're observing from a safe distance.

There's no such thing. Our collective fates are intertwined by climate.

If the huge majority of the world's scientists are right (spoiler alert: they are) this isn't just another test of empathy. It's getting pretty bad out there for reasons that have more than just a bit to do with what we've been up to.

The reassurances from the deniers that, no no, this is just Mother Nature getting all hormonal as she periodically does, are getting harder to hear over the roaring winds.

Time and again, scientists are trying to get us to understand that the question of whether climate change "caused" any particular weather event is the wrong one.

READ MORE: Irma in images

Everyone gets it that extreme weather is a natural thing and isn't going to go away.

What scientists are imploring  us to do is pay attention to how climate change, significantly influenced by us, is making the normal patterns of expectably wild weather so very much worse.

For that reason, they regard both Irma and her sibling Harvey as useful teaching aids about how prepared we are for what's already upon us, let alone what lies ahead.

And how well is that?  

Quite apart from any cautionary lessons the US and other nations might inadvertently be providing, the short answer from a resolutely NZ perspective is not so well.

Senior Government politicians are adept at intoning about the long-term challenge of climate change while at the same time giving piddly examples of how we're puddling our way into a better future.

They aren't particularly heeding scientists' cries for a much more purposeful sense of urgency..

The Greens have leaked a Government report that reckons we can expect $19 billion of coastal damage from sea level rises that should hit around 2050 unless we stop being quite so serene about how much we're doing and trajectory we're on.

As it happens, New Zealand is hosting an international workshop this week on waves, storm surges and coastal hazards. So, what with one thing and another, that conference has had some pretty good pre-publicity.

There's something especially galling about political officialdom treating scientific voices as if they're coming from the most rarefied and, frankly, unattainable heights of the moral high ground.

They're talking more in terms of the actual, physical high ground we'll be needing to head for, in massive numbers, to escape the rising waters and tough out, as best we can, the world's worsening weather.



 - Stuff


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